Wednesday, July 26, 2017


JFNA has raised failure to unheard levels of almost absurdity. Someone in JFNA leadership should realize the mockery that the organization's professional and lay leadership make of The Strength of a People/The Power of Community, the words with which JFNA describes itself -- words that JFNA by its non/mal/mis-feasance assure have no meaning whatsoever...none...when applied to JFNA itself.

Examples abound -- from the insipidity of a succession of TribeFests, to one failed GA after another, to the shitstorm of the Global Planning Table, to the futility so evident by a lack of follow through on the egalitarian Kotel Plaza, the Knesset Conversion legislation and so many others. Maybe JFNA's tagline ought to be Leaving the Strength of a People to Others. Yet, of all of the failures, JFNA leadership's lack of any plan, any strategy or any tactics in light of the assault on Conservative and Reform Jewry in the the Prime Minister's Office and in the halls of the Knesset is both inexcusable and without precedent. In fact this sad state is unforgivable...unforgivable.

We all should be aware that but for the serendipity of Prime Minister Netanyahu's decision to support both the breach of his agreement with regard to egalitarian prayer access near the Kotel and the codification of Ultra-Orthodox control of conversions at the time that Diaspora leaders -- lay, professional and Rabbinic -- were in Jerusalem for meetings of the Jewish Agency, the strong probability based upon precedent is that JFNA leaders would have done nothing more than send a letter kvetching while fawning, give interviews and think their job is done. But, instead there were concrete actions taken by JAFI leadership with JFNA and Federation leaders in tow -- cancellation of a Gala Dinner at the Knesset, direct confrontation with the Prime Minister and photo ops, the latest two events in which federation and JFNA leaders participated. It was not coincidence, however, that the PM's decision to "suspend" consideration of the Conversion Bill took place only after the Conference of Presidents flew in to Jerusalem and the Prime Minister's Office to register the concern of Diaspora Jewry. And that suspension was but a tactical retreat not an act about which our leaders should be in their normal state of hyperbolic self-congratulations.

You may ask: Isn't JFNA demonstrating its strength in opposition to the actions of the Government of Israel that directly impact on World Jewry and the vast majority of Jews in our communities and their/our relationship to Israel? And, I would suggest the answer is: No. You then ask how could you write that? Think about this: the JFNA sponsored and heavily hyped/poorly attended FRD Leadership Mission brought its cadre to Israel just a week ago. Jerry Silverman, for reasons even he might struggle to explain, was on that Mission (although he may have left it before it arrived in Jerusalem), which arrived in Israel just weeks after the Prime Minister's decisions on the egalitarian prayer space and the Conversion Bill. This was a great opportunity to demonstrate American Jewry's concerns directly with the PM and with members of the Knesset. And, not only did this not happen; it appeared not to even have been considered. No change in the published itinerary, no meetings with Knesset members or the Prime Minister...on this issue: silence.

What a terrible message. Federation leaders in Jerusalem and the opportunity to directly express our concerns to those in the opportunity totally lost. Plus, what must Israeli lawmakers think of us; do we really care about this issue? I know this: in an environment in which JFNA had the strength of purpose of the United Jewish Appeal in its best days or the strength of leadership of a Council of Jewish Federations under Shoshana Cardin, all of us can envision our continental leaders implementing a strategy that would have exercised our collective strength in pursuit of our goals -- but not this JFNA, not now and apparently not ever. And we can envision strong action because it actually happened under UJA and CJF.

One Israeli reporter observed:
"Heads of the Jewish Federations of North America said during their recent visit to Israel that they plan on creating a campaign in Israel so that “Israelis know what we’re about,” they explained. My answer to this is: It’s about time, but also a bit too late. Hundreds of millions have been invested in promoting the connection of young Diaspora Jews to Israel, but how much has been invested in getting Israelis to learn about Diaspora Jews? Not very much."
Friends in Israel have called to tell me of a set of billboards erected around Israel bearing language so outrageous that I have told them that not even JFNA would be stupid enough to have funded them. Would it? But that brings us back: is JFNA doing anything

Is it too much to ask that our Continental organization have a strategy and the tactics to implement that strategy on our behalf? I know: rhetorical question. Think about it, friends: federation lay and campaign leaders were in Jerusalem and no thought was given as to how to educate the Mission lay and professional participants and deploy them to the Knesset. I can't think of a greater missed opportunity; a missed opportunity that speaks volumes about the pathetic state JFNA is in during what should be the final moments of its CEO's tenure. This is the equivalent of Aipac bringing a leadership group to D.C. but failing to meet with Congressional leadership. 

Inexcusable. Unforgivable.

As always.



Anonymous said...

Richard, this is criminal neglect of basic institutional responsibility. Will this lay leadership ever rise up or are they but sheep?

Anonymous said...

The Federations by their actions clearly and totally distrust JFNA and, in particular, its CEO and the leader of JFNA-Israel. No organization can continue to claim a mandate under these circumstances. And yet these two continue in position which suggests the cowardice of the lay leadership which in refusing to take the requisite actions to end this regime, do nothing and thereby through what now must be characterized as willful negligence they empower and enable. This wouldn't happen at my federation or anyone's.

Anonymous said...

Here's what you are going to hear in response to criticism that "JFNA is doing nothing" -- "we're working really hard behind the scenes. Nothing will be gained from confrontation. We are getting our message through loud and clear in private and in consultations out of the spotlight." In other words -- JFNA is accomplishing nothing, waiting for Sharansky then, if successful, glomming on for "credit." It's even worse than you've written.

Anonymous said...

But but but - supposedly the sr vp for Israel is spending most of her time at the Knesset (unknown to everyone except the security folks who allow her to pass) working very hard.

Anonymous said...

Sending the SVP Israel off to the Knesset is neither a strategy nor a tactic; especially when her purpose there is known only to herself and, maybe, Silverman. This inspires no trust, no faith that anything tangible is being accomplished.

Anonymous said...

RICHARD, What are we to think of an organization whose lay Chair, Executive and Board, delegate away all to a CEO and the head of its Israel Office to professionals who have proved inadequate to basic tasks beyond collecting egregious pay checks and laughing all the way to their banks? This is the kind of dereliction of fiduciary responsibility that none of us would permit of our own communal leadership. I know that we "get the leadership we deserve" but no organization deserve THIS.

I know that these leaders, lay and professional, read your Blog every time you Post even though they deny that they read it unless someone brings it to their attention. You have noted, I am sure, that no one ever stands up and sends a rebuttal. Thank you for your honesty and candor.

Anonymous said...

It is a total waste of time to send the Israel SVP or even the CEO to the Knesset on these issues (or for any other issues for that matter).
The only people that can make a difference at the Knesset are people with political power, voters or potential donors to political campaigns.
While this CEO and Israel SVP are indeed "politicians", they are not the kind of politicians needed to influence political decisions in Israel. They do their political magic and manipulations on the lay leaders that are supposedly overseeing their work.
From that point of view, if success is any measure, they are doing a GREAT job of creating the illusion that they are true professionals.